Positive Attributes. Electronic flashes, as an extended family, have a number of very nice attributes. The light is pretty consistent from flash to flash. That means that every time the unit flashes, the color temperature of the light emitted remains the same—as does the power output and the duration.
This makes them very convenient and safe when you want to point them into fabric umbrellas or put them into enclosed softboxes. Another useful quality of electronic flashes is their relative ability to freeze motion.
Minimalist Lighting: Professional Techniques for Studio
In this regard, smaller units with lower power usually have shorter flash durations which can be very useful in freezing very fast motion. But all electronic flashes have a general ability to freeze most kinds of subject motion. Finally, battery-operated electronic flashes can be used anywhere you want without having to worry about finding a power source. This category also includes some larger flashes with modern, high-capacity battery packs see page 53 for more on this. The majority of studios generally default to using flash because of all the good points listed above.
If you want to specialize in studio-style portraits, you could start a budget operation with just a few, inexpensive battery-powered electronic flash units. These are just right for adding an accent to a studio photograph. Budget Solutions. The change from film to digital is a real plus if you want to use small-budget resources in order to do bigtime images. We now have digital cameras that give remarkably clean files at sensitivities of up to ISO. When you shoot at ISO or , you need just a fraction of the light that you would have needed at ISO to achieve the same aperture and shutter-speed settings.
That means a small hand-held flash can easily do the same kind of work the oldfashioned studio electronic flashes could do. New battery technology means these flashes run longer and recycle more quickly than ever before. Rechargeable nickel metal hydride batteries NiMH can be reused for five-hundred high-powered usage cycles and cost not much more than disposable alkaline batteries. An important part of the shift to smaller electronic flashes is a result of the instant feedback photographers get from their digital cameras. A quick test shot lets you know, in real time, if you need to fine-tune your exposure.
You can lighten or darken your image, change your light ratios if need be, and then go on to photograph your assignment with confidence. In truth, I could do most of the assignments I normally handle with nothing more than three or four small battery-powered flashes. What do I give up when I choose this budget option over my traditional, larger, heavier, studio electronic flashes?
First of all I lose the benefit of modeling lights. These are light bulbs that sit in the same fixture as the flash tubes in studio flashes and give a basic representation of how a scene will look. In reality, though, good overall lighting in your studio space will easily compensate for these two factors and the use of a digital camera will give you the feedback you need about the actual effects of the flashes. Another benefit you give up when using the battery-operated units is very fast recycle time.
Battery-powered units meant to fit into the hot shoe of your camera tend to use four AA batteries for their power. This process generates heat, and trying to speed up the process would require heavier and more expensive components in every part of the electronics. Because of this, the average recycle time with fresh batteries is around five to ten seconds at full power.
Some small flashes have a receptacle that allows you to bypass the electronic step-up circuitry and directly apply electricity from a high-voltage battery system to the capacitors. This speeds up the recycle time to around one to two seconds. Since the flashes are not fan cooled or designed for heavy-duty operation, however, cycling them too quickly for twenty or thirty exposures can cause overheating and destroy the units. The other side to the recycle story is that, unless you are shooting fashion sessions, most studio photography can be shot at a reasonable pace.
This speeds up recycling times and reduces the possibility of overheating. For more on this, see page Camera Compatibility. Many manufacturers have also introduced units that can be controlled wirelessly from your camera position and have plenty of features that make their purchase price justifiable. Canon users will find all the same power, flexibility, and control in the EX series of flashes. Similar, fully configured flash systems are available from Sony, Pentax, and Olympus—and they are very practical for a budget studio setup.
This is especially true if you also want to use them as they were designed, for weddings and other events. With a well-chosen collection of three battery-operated flash units and a means of triggering them, you will find that you have a tremendous amount of creative lighting capability at your disposal. I buy them in bulk from Costco, because they have a long shelf life and I never know when I will want to grab a handful of flashes and a baggie full of batteries as I rush out the door for a quick assignment. Remember not to mix battery types, to use groups of batteries from the same manufacturing batch when possible, and to avoid using rapid chargers these create internal heat and shorten the overall life of the battery.
The one downside with NiMHs is that they self-discharge while they are being stored. Many photographers swear by external battery packs for quick recycling and thousands of flashes per charge. These can be good, solid workhorses for a small or beginning studio. The systems generally include modeling lights, fast recycling, and solid, reliable performance. It has roughly twice the power of the top Nikon or Canon batteryoperated flagship units at Ws. It recycles in one second at full power and can continue to do so for a good while, as all of the electronics are fan cooled.
Every unit contains a built-in optical slave that will trigger the unit when it sees the flash of another unit. The product line also includes units that range all the way up to Ws of power. This translate into two full stops more intensity. There are basically two types of systems: solid, no-nonsense monolights or basic pack-and-head systems. There are advantages and limitations with each type, so your choice will be a personal one based on how you plan to use your lights. Monolight Systems. Monolights are so called because each unit is a totally self-contained lighting unit that can be used by itself or in combination with other units.
The self-contained nature of the monolight is an asset if you need to place the units far away from each other for a specific lighting effect. All you need is a convenient wall socket for power and the ability to trigger the lights from your camera position. Any additional extension between the pack and head also reduces your power. Among the fringe benefits of using monolights, such as the Alien Bees, over battery-operated hot-shoe flashes, are the included adapters for mounting the units on light stands and integrated clamps that make it easy to attach common light modifiers, like umbrellas.
Most monolights and pack-and-head systems also feature optional metal rings that allow you to easily attach softboxes and other accessories. The basic system for most budget-conscious studios would be two low-powered monolights with a range of reflectors, modifiers, and accessories. This would enable you to do good two-light setups. A typical portrait setup would involve one main light with some kind of modifier, a reflector as a fill light, and a second monolight for the background.
Adding a third light to the arsenal allows you to evenly light the background using two lights on it instead of one , or to stick with one light on the background and use the third light as an accent or hair light.
Profoto lights are highly regarded and their power-pack systems are the number-one rental units. So, if basic units like this include decent power, variable power control, fast recycling, modeling lights, and fan cooling, what does more money get you? I have a set of Profoto monolights and the following are what I know to be the differences. First, Profoto has a premium line of reflectors, softlights, grids, and other accessories. The way they are designed allows you to focus or de-focus the lights, fine-tuning the spread of the light for your lighting application. The second difference is that the build quality is much higher conversely, this also makes them a bit bigger and a lot heavier.
Third, on the Profoto units, you can use higher powered modeling lights, including W tungsten halogen bulbs. Profoto lights are highly regarded and their power-pack systems are the number-one rental units for high-end photography around the world. Are they worth two and a half or three times the cost of the Alien Bees units? If you just compare the units based on the light output, I would say no. If you have lots of snobby, brand-conscious, advertising-agency art directors as clients, I would say maybe.
If you shoot high-fashion or other applications that call for fast recycling, long-use cycles, and consistent exposures, I would say yes. In the. You have to weigh your budget and figure out where your comfort level is. I should note that there are plenty of other choices of monolights on the market, as well. Their units are the Rolls Royces of the lighting world.
My take? If you spend all your time in the studio it makes a lot of sense to buy a set of monolights and take advantage of their many features. As luck would have it, most of the popular inexpensive systems are monolights. This allows you to start with one or two small lights and then build up incrementally to larger lights or more involved systems. I often lighten my travel kit by substituting the smaller, lighter Nikon SB flash unit for a third monolight unit, which I use mostly as a background light at lower power settings.
Pack-and-Head Systems. Before monolights, all the studio electronic flashes were designed around boxes referred to as power packs. One benefit of pack-and-head systems is the cost efficiency of using one set of circuits, transformers, and the like to power two or more flash heads. Another benefit is that the heads weigh much less than comparably powered monolights.
This makes them much more stable when placed at the top of tall light stands. On the flip side, any failure of the power pack renders the whole system useless. If you have three monolights and one fails, though, you will still have two to complete your assignment; this adds a redundancy working photographers appreciate. You can probably tell that my preferences lean toward monolights, but some studio photographers I know swear by pack-and-head systems.
For those who do, the range of available models starts at a higher price point than the base level of monolights and escalates up through astronomical to downright whimsical.
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Traditional pack-and-head systems can be cumbersome if you want to position two heads far apart from each other. This is the Profoto Acute B battery-powered system, which is great if you only need one head on location. There are a number of battery packs with built-in inverters.
This is the first generation of such packs from Alien Bees. The product name is the Vagabond. The current budget champ is probably U. Ultimately, the real reason to use a pack-and-head system is because sheer, brutal, unbelievable power is necessary in your highly profitable, professional, day-to-day shooting. Photographers using these systems generally dedicate a pack for each head for greater flexibility and redundancy.
If you want to light with flash, my recommendation is to start small and work with what you have until you thoroughly understand the limitations of your lights. If you start today with a few inexpensive Alien Bees units and decide to upgrade several years down the road, you will very likely be able to sell them without losing much money.
Try that with a three-year-old digital camera! A while ago, I bought a Vagabond version 2 from the Paul C. The Vagabond is a well-thought-out product that marries a stout motorcycle battery with a pure sine-wave inverter. When I bought it, my intention was to power flash units at locations that lacked wall plugs. The best use I got, though, happened more recently. Since the shoot was scheduled for early in the morning, I took the time to set everything up and test it the night before.
I was using the inch Lastolite umbrella with a Profoto head and a Ws power pack. Several hours past midnight, though, the winds began to pick up. The noise of branches slapping against the house was bad, but the crash of one-inchdiameter hail that followed was even worse. The lightning was striking so often it reminded me of a strobe light—and a few minutes after the last hail assault, all the power in the house went down. And it stayed down. Time was tight, so we headed to the studio and hooked the Vagabond unit up to the Profoto power pack.
With the flick of a switch, there was light! We shot eighty frames with the big camera and encountered not a single hitch or hiccup. With the shoot finished and the client gone, I unplugged the strobes from the Vagabond and got to work on the files with my laptop. The lap-. This image was created with two W tungsten fixtures placed to either side of the set and directed through large diffusers. We used the Kodak camera for these still-life shots, because it can be set at 6 to 25 ISO for very long, very clean exposures with maximum detail.
Fortunately, the Vagabond came to the rescue again, powering up and recharging my computer. It kept going until well after I finished the files. After a quick espresso and a half an hour of uploading, another project was successfully completed. We never missed a step. Now I keep the Vagabond on the charger just in case! While the camera was a mediocre performer at regular ISOs, it was phenomenally capable at ISOs in the 6 to 50 range—and it could only achieve low ISO images with continuous light! This reflector is nothing special, but you could do a lot of still life work with one of these and a W or W bulb.
Indeed, a number of still-life and even portrait photographers enjoy working with continuous tungsten light for a number of reasons. Jewelry and product still-life shooters, who routinely use large-format cameras digital or film , have different requirements than photographers who use SLR-style, cropped-frame digital cameras. Still-Life Photography. They might also use lots of light-absorbing modifiers in front of their lights. Finally, they seem to like working with very slow ISOs, like 50 and This combination of settings and lighting, when done well, gives them grainless files with layers and layers of detail, all rendered with the highest sharpness possible.
Not a flattering way to photograph a bride or model! As a result, long exposures can be used in order to facilitate tiny aperture settings. Still-life pros think nothing of using to second exposures in the pursuit of their art. Cost and Power. Some studio guys love to use tungsten lighting. Two of these would allow a thrifty still-life photographer to light a wide variety of subjects with good control. I was so amazed that I bought one to test. Now I need to go back and get a few more! Fashion and Portrait Photography. But wait, still-life photography is not the only field that makes use of continuous lights.
Fashion photographers often turn to tungsten when the style they are attempting calls for softer results and smoother skin tones. The longer exposures needed for continuous-light exposures help to blend and soften images by incorporating small amounts of subject movement. This is the opposite of the clinically revealing nature of electronic flash. I like to use tungsten lights when I want to shoot with a medium-length lens at its widest most open aperture in order to get a very tiny sliver of focus.
One of my favorite portrait lighting styles is to use the biggest diffuser in my studio 74 inches by 74 inches and shine a W tungsten light, with a very broad light beam, through the diffuser onto the subject. Tungsten fixtures designed for movie production use lamps that are different from everyday light bulbs you find around your house. They use a bulb envelope system whereby a halogen gas keeps residue, created by the filament as it glows, off the interior of the glass envelope and redeposits it back onto the filament. Unlike conventional bulbs, the professional lamps do not darken or change color temperature as they age.
Depending on the wattage and design of the bulb, they can last for well over a thousand hours before failure. One of the most compelling reasons to use tungsten lights is the the incredible range of lighting instruments that are available and the degree to which they can be tuned, modified, and utilized for the task at hand. I also keep a few fresnel spot lights around, because being able to focus them into a tight beam of coherent light can really come in handy. Hot lights are very mature products, having been used and evolved by both the film and television industries for over a hundred years.
Concentric glass rings in this spotlight help to focus the light into a tight beam when you want one—but the edges of the beam always yield a nice, soft edge. This is a much better choice for most images than a snoot. Lights that run cooler increase the life-span of the accessories they are used with while also extending the life of the bulb. These are really great W tungsten lights with built-in fans.
WANAFOTO: Minimalist Lighting Professional Techniques for Location Photography
Tungsten lights were used just for a change of pace. There is one fresnel spotlight on the mottled grey background, one W fixture diffused by a 6x6-foot diffusion screen to the left of the camera, and one small W fresnel spotlight coming in from the back as a glancing backlight see page 88 for more on this. The downside of hot lights is that using them requires fairly long exposures. This makes them less flexible for lighting people. They also generate a tremendous amount of heat, which makes them a bit uncomfortable to work around.
Used on a food set, hot lights would be a catastrophe; they would quickly melt, desiccate, and cook all the products set before them. For the photographer on a very strict budget, and willing to work within the creative constraints, hot lights can be an initially economical option for a photographer.
However, they are not the most eco-friendly option; what you save in the initial purchase price may well be negated in the increased energy use and airconditioning expenses, depending upon where you live. These bulbs put off a tremendous amount of infrared energy and quickly heat up the lamp housing and any metal attachments, such as barndoors.
Also, you should never touch a tungsten halogen bulb with your fingers. If you do, you might transfer some of the natural oils from your fingers to the exterior of the bulb. This will insulate the glass at the touched area and raise the temperature of the glass envelope in an erratic manner. The temperature differential across the glass may cause it to shatter in a particularly spectacular way. Always handle bulbs, even when cool, with a piece of paper or tissue. This shot of Kara is a one-light shot made with a small, inexpensive tungsten fixture. I put a correction filter for daylight over the light to match the color of the daylight coming through a door in the background and added a foamcore reflector to the opposite side of the light.
Taking it to Extremes I have one particularly inventive friend who even refuses to buy light stands. He makes his own studio stands by finding one-gallon paint cans, sticking various lengths of 1x2-inch sticks or 1-inch PVC piping into the cans, and filling them up with cement. He brags that his cost for each. If you are just flat-out strapped for cash, take heart. The resulting image is shown above see the caption for details on the lighting setup.
So grab a couple of bright household lights and get started! This same guy makes his diffusers by building cheap wooden frames and stapling tracing paper or some other translucent ma-. Every time I use my tungsten lights, I find myself wishing someone would make a light that was continuous but never heated up. I would also like these mythical lights to be available with either daylight or tungsten color balances—and it would be great if they were really energy efficient.
Finally, I would love it if they gave off a relatively big, soft light. They actually exist. They are called fluorescent lights, and you can get them inexpensively at most building-supply stores. Balancing with Ceiling-Mounted Lights. Unfortunately, the one thing they lack is impressive output—but that can sometimes work to your advantage.
Many years ago, I needed to photograph a businessman in a techy environment that was really big and lit entirely by ceiling-mounted fluorescents. The protocol of the day pre-digital was to bring in the big electronic strobes, try to filter the strobes. Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that more of his income goes into the bank than mine. This is a product made by Westcott that uses daylight-balanced fluorescents, a cool alternative to hot lights.
This was all predicated on using an ISO color transparency film. In reality, the background never had the right balance and the whole thing was a visual mess. I kept coming back to the idea of shooting available light, but I really wanted the main light to be slightly stronger than the down light from the ceilingmounted fluorescents.
I finally decided to go to a hardware store and buy several under-the-counter fluorescent light kits, which—luckily—were a close match to the tubes at the location. I taped three or four of the units together and devised my own weird fluorescent softbox. Since constructing the homemade unit described above, I bought a unit from Westcott the Spiderlight TD-5 that uses a group of five compact fluorescents. The unit is set up to allow the use of a conventional softbox. What does more money buy you? Professional models also have professional attachment hardware, and the interior of the lights will be a very efficient, polished metal.
Additionally, the tubes will use advanced circuitry that prevents them from flickering. Free Light! I would say they are balanced for green ick. The final choice to discuss is the free choice. In the early days of both moviemaking and photography, natural-light studios were widely used. In fact, movie production moved from New York City to southern California early in the last century mostly to take advantage of the ample, and reliable, free sunlight.
I suppose it can be done, but my clients expect things to happen two ways: repeatably and on schedule. The studio window faces west and we wanted to used AM sun that was high but still to the east. Up goes the Chimera light frame with silvered fabric. The contrast is lowered with the introduction of the fill card, while the light is softened with the introduction of the shower curtain.
I turned Heidi so that the window would be on one side and shot this image before adding the fill card. It is wonderful to see the range of styles that can be done with just semi-available light. We put a thick, silver reflector on a Chimera 48xinch frame and attached it with a Manfrotto stand clamp to the top of a very rugged light stand.
I went in the studio and left Amy outside to adjust the light for maximum effect based on what I saw from the camera position. Finally, we added a white panel on the opposite side of the subject to provide fill. She is angled to the window to give the light a bit of direction. LEFT—Here is the overall shot from behind the subject. We can also run this light for hours with no hit to the electric bill! My Recommendations And Predictions.
I use the Alien Bees B units and have found them to be robust—and a very good value. I have more expensive flashes from Profoto, but I find myself reaching for the Alien Bees nearly every time I go to set up lights. The Bs are rated at Ws, which is a meaningless specification. I recommend that you buy two Ws monolights to start, then add another unit or two when you feel the need. Basically, I was trying to preserve my Profoto lights and viewed the Alien Bees units as expendables.
I packed them in a big Pelican case, but I was certain that 20, miles on and off airplanes would mostly destroy them. That was eight years ago! Zero failures! Whatever brand you choose, there are two important specifications to look at. First, check the recycle time at full power. Anything more than two seconds will eventually frustrate you and make your models impatient. Second, check to see whether or not the units are fan cooled. The fans keep the lights from overheating and, according to my electrical engineer friends, they make the gear last longer.
Accessories are covered in more detail in the next section. Alien Bees electronic flash units were the first shot across the bow of traditional light manufacturers—and you can be sure that they will return the favor by designing new lights that are smaller, faster to recycle, seamlessly battery operable, and cheaper. At the same time there will always be a market for the professional-grade equipment in studios where cost is no object. Light Stands.
Good solid light stands are available in a variety of sizes and weights. Some are made to fold down small and weigh very little. They are no cheaper than a good, solid, mid-range light stand; you are paying for the portability. I suggest a set of fairly heavy-duty stands that can be extended up to nine or ten feet. This will come in handy for the times you want to place a hair light up high. I use big Manfrotto stands also branded as Bogen in the U.
I also use smaller stands from Pic—and my favorite tiny stands are the Manfrotto s, which I keep in my location kit because they fold down so small. The photography market is always going through transitions, and you can usually find photographers who are retiring or shutting down their studios and need to get rid of a big accumulation of gear. If you keep your eyes open, you can too. Good luck building your own tripod! There are several companies importing Chinese tripods that are very close copies of the more popular brands from Europe—and at half the price or less.
In fact, a little extra weight on a studio tripod may give it just the mass it needs to be rock solid. Bogen, Manfrotto, Giotto and others make good, solid tripods that will work well for your studio. Shy away from the skinny, shiny, store brand units. I have a carbon-fiber tripod from Gitzo, because I do a lot of location photography, but I also have a much less expensive one from Manfrotto, which is just as sturdy and can be used lower to the ground. I want my all-purpose tripod to go up past my head for group shots, and I also want the legs to be able to extend out at different angles.
All the ones I own do that, regardless of price.
Choose the right tripod for the job. For everything else we use the Gitzo. Bring your camera when you go shopping and try putting it on the tripod head and taking it off. Bring your camera when you go shopping and try putting it on the tripod head and taking it off, over and over again. Everything should clamp down tight with absolutely no wiggle or play. A lot of photographers are very idiosyncratic about their tripods and seem to buy new ones almost as often as they buy camera bags. As a result, tripods are constantly coming on to the used market—so learn where they sell them near you!
The good camera store in our town always has five or ten units on consignment. Your Basic Inventory. So, what would my absolutely fundamental studio equipment inventory consist of? To do basic portraits and small products I would want the following basics: 1. Three light units. These could be battery-powered hot-shoe flashes or budget studio flashes like the Alien Bees or similar units.
Three light stands—one for each light. When not holding a light, these can always be pressed into duty to hold a reflector or a light blocker. One of the light stands should be reasonably short so it can be used as a background light stand. Two medium-sized white umbrellas with black backing. Some sort of paper or muslin background and a way to secure it. A decent tripod that goes up high and can be easily rigged to go down low. If you just want to do good photography in a traditional style, you can stop right there and get to work.
Anything else you buy will do things in a different way—but not necessarily in a better way. More expensive lights might recycle faster. More powerful lights might give you smaller apertures, but do you really want the background to be more sharply focused? The biggest expense on any list, after lighting and camera equipment, would have to be the computer equipment necessary to take the raw material of your image files and turn them into the finished products that you are able to license to your clients.
This how you can earn money and move the whole enterprise forward. Computers and Monitors. The prevailing knowledge is that a large, desktop systems with tons of RAM is necessary in order to be successful in the business. I learned this in an interesting way. The difference was so obvious that I started cheating a bit by hooking up the little laptop to the inch monitor in order to batch process files in about half the time required by my large machine. The use of the newest multi-core Intel chips has changed the whole paradigm of image processing.
It can be the perfect location machine for reviewing and storing images in the field and, while hooked up to a calibrated monitor, it can provide nearly the same speed of processing as its brothers in the big silver boxes! If your business is that robust, you probably already know which computer you prefer and why. For the rest of us, the balance of portability and cost savings is a powerful incentive to wait 20—25 percent longer to finish running a batch of images.
My friends who choose to work on a PC platform assure me that there is very little difference anymore between the two operating systems, and for the most part I agree. This is enough power to make great use of Lightroom or Photoshop CS3. Now your computer station is fully equipped—all you need to add is an outboard hard drive to store your files.
External Hard Drives. I use FireWire drives because they are fast and reliable. I keep a copy of my images on the external hard drive, and I also burn two copies of each file onto DVDs. I forgot the printer? I consider wide-carriage printers to be a money sink. A black hole. A time waster.
A misapplication of square footage. They are great for well-heeled amateurs but an unnecessary cost for a studio on a budget. Smaller print sizes are even more economical. Or you can do all three at once. Anything Goes. You can even modify light using things most people have never thought of using.
Many years ago, when I was teaching a studio course on lighting and the view camera, I had a student come in and rip open two large, brown paper bags—grocery bags. Then, she converted the sheet into a large ball. She used the joined brown bags as a diffuser and blasted the light from two flash heads, each set to Ws a really powerful pop , directly through the bags.
The light coming through the other side was gorgeous. The following, however, are some of the more common and useful types of tools. Black Panels Some of my most-used accessories— and some of the least expensive—are black panels. We generally think of light producing fixtures when we think about lighting, but the reality is that sometimes the light we subtract is much more critical to the look of an image than the light we add. No matter how nice and soft the light from. Reflectors can include just about any surface that will bounce light. This is one of the realms of lighting where you can improvise, invent, and save money without having any negative impact on the final image.
How It Works—And Why. So why would you want to use a reflector? You know from reading about the characteristics of light see chapter 2 that a small light source relative to the subject equals a sharper, harder light with more defined shadows. This is what you get when you point that 7-inch reflector directly at your subject.
Using reflectors, however, you can increase the effective size of that same light source by bouncing the light onto a much larger surface area,. You can buy sheets of foamcore that are white on one side and black on the other. Held in place by a light stand and a clamp, the light-absorbing side of the foamcore is both inexpensive and priceless. When you do this, the larger size of the reflector becomes the size of the light source. Nice trick. That means that the quality of light from a dinky, on-camera flash can be as soft and diffuse as the most expensive flash—if both flashes are bounced onto the same size reflector!
This is really wonderful. The cheapest way to begin using reflectors is to use what is at hand. Start by doing a little experiment in your studio. Point a flash or tungsten light directly at the subject and take a photograph. Then, point your flash into a big white wall near your subject and compare the two images. The image taken with direct light will have bright, specular highlights and hard-edged shadows. The image taken with bounced light off a large, white wall will be much softer. The light will fill in the shadows to a much greater degree and the transition between the highlights and the shadows will be much more gradual and gentle.
Controlling Reflected Light. You need to experiment to find the right size of reflector to use with each type of subject. In shots of small products, I use folded pieces of paper to bounce light where I need it. I use walls of white fabric as reflectors to bounce soft light onto large groups of people. The inverse square law see page 33 also comes into play when selecting the right size for reflectors. The inverse square law informs us that moving the light further away from the subject s diminishes the falloff from side to side. I love foamcore and use it for fill cards all the time.
It is light and foldable. I keep a stack of different sizes in the studio. Try getting two large foamcore panels and taping them together along the long axis. When spread at a degree angle, they will stand up by themselves and provide some really nice light. The light fixture was a W tungsten. However, moving the light farther away from our subjects also makes the light harder see pages 31— We can control this characteristic by making the light source larger by bouncing it off a large reflector, for example.
Unfortunately, using a large light source at a distance has one disadvantage: it requires either more power from your light source or a higher ISO setting on your camera. Flat Panels. A simple flat-panel reflector can be a homemade tool—a 4x8foot piece of foamcore, some shiny home insulating material, or a rectangle of poster board.
Shine a light at the reflector board and it bounces off to illuminate your subject. If you prefer a store-bought substitute, a number of companies make collapsible, portable flats that are a combination of shock-corded poles and nylon fabric. I own several versions, including the old Lightform Panels that used frames made of plastic tubing, and a newer set of Chimera panels that use thinner aluminum tubing. Combining three of the Lightform Panels into a triangle makes a good makeshift changing room for models when no other facilities are available on location. Both versions can be used with a variety of different fabrics for different imaging requirements.
The fabrics we use most often in the studio are white, black, and silver. The manufacturers also make various cloths that can be used as diffusers. The two most used are the black and the white. RIGHT—I feel like Alfred Hitchcock for including myself in this book, but there was no one around to hold up my big, translucent pop up reflector. These are great for location work but equally at home in the studio. I find panels to be quite useful because they are so easy to fill in shadows with. Place a main light 45 degrees off camera axis in front of your subject, then place a fill card on the opposite side of your subject to fill in shadows and create a more even light.
You can fine-tune the effect by moving the panel closer or further away from the subject. This is much easier than adding a second light source and dealing with two sets of shadows and catchlights. Photographers who work in large, permanent studios sometimes make a versatile type of light modifier by hinging together two 4x8-foot sheets of plywood. They paint the plywood white on one side and black on the other.
This gives them a very large, freestanding, V-shaped panel that can be used as a very soft reflector and, when reversed, a large light absorber. The only other cost is that of storage. The same devices can also be made on a smaller scale using foamcore board or any other flat material. A favorite approach to creating a high-key lighting setup for shooting models is to set up a V-flat made of two large foamcore panels, joined by tape, and aim a broad light into the center of the panels.
If you back the light up until it is evenly illuminating most of both panels, the light on your subject will be exceptionally soft. Another family of reflectors is the round, folding type that uses a spring around the perimeter to shape the reflector and hold the fab-. These are lightweight, easy to use, Diffusion Panels and come in a surprising variety of shapes, A long time ago, the movie industry looked at the conventional flat or panel sizes, and fabrics. Several manufacturers reflector and thought it might be a good idea to make one you could shoot even make folding backgrounds that use the through.
Now just about everyone is making a variation of their reflector panels that is designed to be used as a shoot-through or diffusion panel. Most variasame spring technology. These are available tions are just like their reflecting brethren. Rather than use an opaque cloth, from Lastolite, Photoflex, Westcott, and however, they use more translucent cloths that allow light to pass through. SP—and probably countless other brands These are available in several strengths.
As implied by There is some variation in pricing, but if the numerical designation, each of the variations transmits more or less light. This is a result of more direct, focused light making its way directly through the cloth. We use them to be of reasonable quality. We have these diffusers, in addition to our regular light modifiers, to soften and control one Photoflex reflector that I have used regour main light. For example, I may want to light a portrait subject with a large, ularly for over fifteen years with no signs of diffused umbrella see pages 73—77 but want the light to be more intense on deterioration!
To achieve this, I can block the bottom of easy to use, we have examples in almost the umbrella with a diffuser and selectively soften the light without introducing every size. After years of buying and using these springy round reflectors, I find that my two most used variations are the black panels and the diffuser shoot-through panels. The one downside of these devices becomes apparent when you want to pack them for airline travel.
Try some regular screen material from a hardware store. Sold in rolls big enough to cover a screen door, it can even be folded over for doumore usable set of dimensions. Ultimately, the collapsible panels were engineered with location work in mind. If you are never going on location, why bother with anything more involved than foamcore or plywood panels? Positioning Reflectors. You can buy these at any discount hardware store for a couple of bucks. They come in lots of sizes and are handy for everything.
I use a Matthews grip head seen in the bottom image to the left to mount my Chimera panels in my studio. I find the reflectors to be the most important and least expensive accessories I use. Once you learn what styles and what type of light you like, then it makes more sense to branch out into other, more expensive accessories and light modifiers.
A Matthews grip head holds Chimera frames in place and gives you the ability to tilt and shift in several directions. This photo of Hayes is right in line with my style for certain editorial portrait clients. I use a large softbox or umbrella to the left of the camera, then add a light-subtracting black panel to the right. The background in this photo was lit solely by the edge light from the main light.
This was shot with a Leaf AFi7 medium-format digital camera. I own umbrellas, which are essentially concave reflectors, in just about every size from around 32 inches up to 80 inches. There are a number of reasons to love umbrellas. First, they are relatively cheap.
Second, the light they produce is as soft as that from softboxes of the same size. Third, they are very quick and easy. Finally, good umbrellas range from around thirty to sixty-five dollars. You can buy umbrellas from the premier manufacturers of European strobes systems, like Broncolor and Profoto. However, that is a lot like buying the floor mats for cars; the ones from the dealers are always four times as much— even though they do exactly the same thing as the department-store ones.
Types of Umbrellas. You can get three basic kinds of umbrellas. First, you can get an umbrella with a white interior and black exterior.
Light is directed onto the white surface, which bounces it back onto the subject. The black exterior of the umbrella prevents light from going through the umbrella, meaning you can use them in small, reflective spaces without worrying about light spilling all over the room from the backside of the umbrella and reducing the contrast of a scene by providing unwanted fill light.
Your second option is a plain white umbrella with no backing. For the best of both worlds, you can select an umbrella with a removable black back cover. This allows you to control the spill of light with the black back in place or use the umbrella as a diffuser with the black back removed. As with anything else there are compromises.
Tuning Your Umbrella. Every photo umbrella has a sweet spot where the umbrella most efficiently makes use of the light from your chosen fixture. It is also the point at which umbrellas are at their softest.
Tuning an umbrella works best if you have a really good modeling light in your studio flash head, or if you use tungsten instruments. Start by sliding your umbrella shaft all the way in to the light and observing the effect. What you should see is a circle of light centered around the inside of the umbrella. Then, slide the assembly so that the head is further and further away from the umbrella. At some point, the circle of light will be just about the same size as the diameter of the umbrella. The Photek Softlighter series takes umbrellas one step further by also providing a white diffusion cover for the front of the umbrella, which handily converts the whole thing into a cheap, inch softbox with a very soft quality to the light.
Seen to the right of the frame, this Softlighter is my all-purpose lighting tool for people. Moving the head any closer to the umbrella makes the light source smaller, harder, and less efficient. Moving the light instrument further from the head allows light to escape around the edges of the umbrella, which reduces efficiency and spills light around your studio, reducing scene contrast and increasing the potential for lens flare. If you are using battery-operated flashes and a digital camera, you can move the flash and take a test shot.
Feathering the Light. When you use an umbrella as your main light in a portrait setup, you can use it pointed directly at your subject or you can use it with a bit more finesse. When you set up your portrait lighting using an umbrella, try turning it so that instead of being centered,the light glances by your subject. By doing this, you are using the more gentle penumbra the edge of the light rather than the harsher core of the light.
Watch the effect on your subject as you slowly rotate the light away from them. There will be a point, just before the light level drops off, where the illumination becomes more interesting. My Favorites. My collection of umbrellas includes four-medium sized umbrellas with black backing. These are the perfect tools for lighting white backgrounds in those fashion and product shots where the background must go to white in an even, uniform manner.
So why in the world would you want or even need an inch. A large white sweep background requires four lights to guarantee even light coverage. This shoot will be covered in greater detail on pages — Let me explain. As you move the umbrella further and further from the subject, the light gets harder and harder. With an 80 incher, you can move the umbrella back twenty or thirty feet and still have soft light with minimal fall off from one side of your subject to other. My Recommendations.
What do I recommend? Everyone should have one medium sized umbrella like the inch Softlighter with supplied diffusion front piece and at least on inch umbrella. I consider the inch umbrella critical only if you are seriously obsessed with both giant umbrellas and ridiculously soft light. Many mutant variations of the basic umbrellas exist. For example, several Euro-. No fill card required. I recommend that you stay with the simple solutions. They are time- and photographer-proven and most cost effective. Softboxes: Origami Meets the Umbrella. This is my budget answer to the famous Octabank made by Elinchrome.
This Lastolite inch softbox comes with its own front diffusion already in place. The Birth of Softboxes. Softboxes were created by studio photographers who were out for total control. These photographers loved the way flat-panel diffusers created a soft light with no weird reflections showing in the subject highlights. The problem with flat diffusers in the studio, however, is that a tremendous amount of light reflects off the back surface of the diffuser and spreads all over the room. The light wrapping around the edges of a flat panel can also cause lens flare when the camera position is adjacent to the edge of a big reflector.
This was a decent solution. Eventually, however, the photographers wanted to move their whole lighting apparatus around—maybe suspend it over a set or place it at a high angle to a model. This made the whole process of trying to flag off the light very cumbersome and called for lots of additional light stands, black panels, and clamps. The solution was to create an enclosed light panel. The first variants were homemade, but soon light manufacturers created large, heavy, metal softboxes that required their own extremely stout dedicated light-stand systems.
Finally, several American companies took a look at mountain tent technology, using flexible fiberglass poles, and created the cloth and fiberglass softboxes that we recognize today. The biggest benefit, in addition to ease of use in the studio, is the sheer portability of current softboxes.
Now it is easy to pack a 5x6-foot ZAP. My photograph of Anne Butler is the ultimate distillation of the style I like in portraiture. The pose and expression are quiet and thoughtful. I used a very large softbox 50x70 inches with two layers of white diffusion fabric pinned to the front panel. The softbox is touching the side of camera just to the left, and a black cloth was used to absorb the light that would normally be reflected off the wall to the right of the camera position. Several gridded flash heads were used along with a small softbox to light the draped cloth in the background.
While I used a commercially made softbox, it is a style that can be improvised with hot lights and bed sheets, if necessary. Even a monster softbox can be set up and ready to go in ten minutes with a little practice. These devices attach to lighting units with speedrings which are an integral part of the softbox structure and one unit, with appropriate speedrings, can be used with most of the major brands of electronic flash lighting on the market today.
What to Purchase. Many photographers buy one softbox, generally a mediumsized one such as a 24xinch or 36xinch model and then use it for everything. This adds lighting contrast and creates more defined shadows than you might want. I think that softboxes can solve a lot of small-studio problems by eliminating lighting backsplash.
The basic selection of parabolic reflectors for a Profoto monolight. The large one throws a fairly moderate beam of soft-edged light. The small one is designed to be used with umbrellas, and the medium one is just right for everything else. If you are a portrait shooter, start with the largest box you can comfortably afford and wedge into your studio space. Even though conventional theory says a 6-foot softbox is too big for a single portrait, I use one to do single portraits all the time.
If you are a still life shooter, get the biggest size that you can use on your boom in your studio over your shooting table. Once you master the largest unit, you can always work backward through the smaller sizes. Keep in mind that, for 90 percent of applications, a Photek Softlighter see page 74 with a front diffuser panel will provide just as nice and soft a light as a 6x5-foot Chimera softbox at about a quarter of the purchase price.
The Pros and Cons. Unless you have very strong hands you will have a lot of difficulty doing this—and taking it apart is even worse. If it is possible, go to the store where you intend to buy your softbox from and ask a salesperson to demonstrate how to assemble and disassemble the unit you are planning to buy. When shooting minimalist food photography we have to really think about our composition to keep our viewers engaged and interested.
If just having 4 props make you nervous, you can think of negative space as an additional layer of interest. The power of negative space is that it will balance out your dish, allow your viewer to move to the important subject and connect with it on a deeper level. Try cutting off the dish and props to create tension. Really allow the viewer to focus on those gorgeous layers in your dish. Use a narrower focal length lens where you can to force you to get up close and cut out the unnecessary. Remember, if you feel uncomfortable then you are heading in the right direction. Let me know in the comments below.
Incredible article! Useful article, as always. I tend to the minimalist side and I really enjoyed reading your post. But I should do what makes me happy, not what everyone else is doing, right? Totally right Paula! Always try to do what makes you happy. Those who love your style will always gravitate to your work. I am not really big on props or really very much styling, in my photography and in what I like from others.
I usually just use a wooden board as a surface, towel or cloth napkin, and the food on a plate or tray. I find I prefer to photograph ingredients more than cooked things, except maybe pies! I also just discovered that propping up something behind my subject, really helps. I used a sheet tray and really like how that photo of cherries turned out. I cook for a living and am a hobby photograper, so I usually pick up my camera while I am at my bakery.
This post was helpful in regards to composition. Can you do a similar post for lighting? And how to edit photos that are not taken in natural light, like in my kitchen in the middle of the night! Thanks for all of your helpful tips! Is there a hashtag for this tutorial? Or for you in general? Or can we tag you? Hey Kelli! So great to hear all your thoughts. I do have some posts on Lighting. You can make it look a little better, but having good lighting will allow you to edit beyond belief! I found this article very motivating and it has given me direction. This article shows perfectly how the use of just 4 props and variation in composition can create a stunning image.
I am looking forward to developing my skills in Minimalist Food photography as I work through your lessons. Really powerful and freeing I think. Love this challenge! This is perfect for me since we do travel quite a bit. My head is spinning with ideas. That is the downside of shooting sweets. I usually try to offload it amongst friends hehe.
This was super helpful for me because I am teaching myself food photography and I tend to get caught up in trying to do so much prop styling that I look focus on trying to get the important things right like lighting. Such a great point Nicole! I think it is so powerful and forces us to explore when we have less. Please do share a link! Wow, Rachel….. This is one of the most concise, succint, and useful and super awesome blogs out there!